There’s one ingredient the Nutcracker clearly can’t do without: Christmas. It awakens our very personal nostalgia, the joy of celebration and perhaps the last meaningful ritual that is still part of our everyday lives.
With his Nutcracker, which was premiered in Antwerp in 2016 and is now reinterpreted for the Ballet am Rhein, Demis Volpi shows us a family portrait: a generous and loving middle class household, where young Clara is on the verge of adulthood. The quirky and eccentric Drosselmeier then bursts into the family’s usual hustle and bustle. He gives Clara the present of a nutcracker, that inspires her imagination and takes her on a wild night-time journey to the realm of all human desires and fears.
The spectrum of the journey is expressed through a polyphony of choreographic languages and the evening is enhanced by a range of different signatures from young choreographers.
It is Christmas Eve in the Stahlbaum household. The children have not been allowed inside the living room all day. The air is full of secrets, whispers and the scent of a very special day. Finally, everyone gathers in the lounge – mother, father, aunts, uncles, grandparents, nephews, nieces and the children Fritz and Clara. As soon as the doors to the living room are opened to reveal the Christmas tree, the seasonal rituals begin: Grandfather conjures up snowflakes with paper and a pair of scissors, Grandmother knits, one Aunt can’t keep her hands off the wine bottle, while another finds the sweet pastries impossible to resist. The highlight of the evening comes when the children’s godfather Drosselmeier arrives, bursting into the warm and friendly gathering in his billowing cloak. The children both adore and fear this man with disheveled hair. While his mysterious appearance may seem rather eerie, as a pioneering inventor of curious machines and motorized toys there is no doubt that every year he brings the most exciting presents. But this year is different. Clara no longer feels at all afraid of her otherwise intimidating godfather. She approaches him cheerfully and is promptly rewarded for her courage. Drosselmeier reveals this year’s gift: a small nutcracker. The figure is carved from rough wood, its chin and jaw angular, and yet Clara is immediately fascinated by this small figure. Everyone plays with him and uses him to crack nuts. Clara receives another gift from her parents. Her mother places a necklace around her neck which has a golden pendant in the shape of a walnut. Nevertheless, even the most beautiful parties have to end at some point, so eventually the whole family says goodnight and goes to bed. But Clara cannot forget the nutcracker. She sneaks out of her bedroom and goes back to the living room to have another look at her present. At this point, midnight strikes and amazing things happen throughout the house. A horde of mice run out from all directions and try to steal the nutcracker. Clara runs to help and manages to rescue him, but the little rodents refuse to give up. During all the confusion – and watched by the returning Drosselmeier – something inconceivable happens. The wooden man starts to move. Awkwardly at first, but when the mice are forced into a retreat, he reacts more and more to Clara’s touch. Or is it just her godfather Drosselmeier who is moving the nutcracker’s body for her? This new and miraculous association inspires Clara’s imagination. A chorus of snowflakes appears in front of her eyes, led by their queen. They envelop Clara, the nutcracker and Drosselmeier in a flurry of snowflakes prettier than any Christmas ever before.
Although the winter forest with its singing snowflakes appears not to belong to this world, it is only the beginning of a thrilling dream journey on which Clara, the nutcracker and Drosselmeier embark. Along the way a new and even more fantastic experience lurks behind every door. They meet cakes, more aunts, giant strings of lights, scented flowers that embrace each other in waltz time and even discover things about themselves that they had not known before. Clara and the nutcracker have become closer in the course of the journey. Clara has become more of an adult and the nutcracker has become more human. Their path has led them back to her parents’ living room and Clara is now prepared to show her wooden friend that she loves him. Even though her mother has previously stopped her from doing so, Clara presents the nutcracker with the golden walnut from her chain. No sooner has he cracked the pendant than a miraculous transformation takes place: the nutcracker turns into a real human being. Standing in front of Clara is no longer an artificial wooden figure, but a young man of flesh and blood. The final miracle – one which not even Drosselmeier could ever conjure up then happens purely between Clara and the nutcracker. They have both fallen in love with each other. For the first time the Stahlbaum family will need to set an extra chair for Christmas breakfast.
Peter Iljitsch Tschaikowsky
Bühne und Kostüm
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